Malusi Gigaba, Page 18 REVISING BUSINESS
Putting context into government’s growth plan of action
LAST week we announced government’s response to the recession, an action plan linked to the 9-Point Plan for Economic Growth. It aims to accelerate progress, co-ordinate government efforts, and act as a mechanism for accountability.
Since assuming the finance portfolio, we have engaged extensively with business stakeholders – across sectors, established and emerging – on our economic growth programme.
The key message that emerged from business was that two broad sets of actions were required to revive business confidence: provide policy certainty in a range of areas where key decisions and legislations have been pending for years (mining, telecommunications spectrum, broadband rollout, land reform), and revitalising key state-owned enterprises, especially Eskom and SAA.
With respect to policy certainty, business has said to us, understandably, that for it to invest in these areas, it needs to know what the policy landscape is going to be. In the case of telecommunications spectrum, the state needs to exercise its licensing function to unlock economic activity.
As the department responsible for managing government guarantees of Stateowned companies (SOC) debt, we are acutely aware of the need to ensure that our SOCs are well governed and managed, and have sustainable business plans.
Our discussions with business reinforced our own analysis, that much of what needs to be done to restore the confidence of economic actors to spend and invest, has already been identified.
The 9-Point Plan is our economic growth and reform agenda; we need to improve its implementation, not replace it.
This speaks to valid criticisms that have been levelled at the government for years. Stakeholders have complained that we generally develop sound policies, but are let down by slow decision-making and poor implementation, that departments work in silos and often at cross purposes, or that we too often come up with new programmes without implementing the ones we have.
These criticisms are valid to various degrees. We do have to work within the constraints of government, in accordance with legislation and regulations which are time-consuming to enact and amend.
Still, the government can and must work better to achieve our development objectives.
In several intensive engagements with the President and fellow ministers after the recession was confirmed, we spoke frankly about the concerns raised by business and other stakeholders.
We all shared a sense of urgency to accelerate the pace of structural reforms, to lay the platform for higher growth. The President asked departments to commit to the shortest realistic time lines for the 14 key actions which were identified. He has made it clear that he expects these timelines to be met. They have been communicated to the public so that stakeholders can hold departments accountable for delivering on these.
What is important about the action plan is not whether the actions therein are new. Most are not and we make no pretence that they are. What is important is that it represents unity of purpose, an action-orientated approach, and enables accountability.
By completing these structural reforms, we will lay a platform for higher growth, improving business and consumer confidence, and removing binding constraints. It won’t happen over night.
We’ve made progress in resolving the energy challenge, moving from scarcity to surplus, and improving labour relations. Economic capacity that was lost due to electricity constraints and workplace conflict will take time to reconstitute.
Our economy has significant advantages compared to our peers which we sometimes overlook. As we continue to remove binding constraints and promote key sectors, we are confident that growth will resume, and more sustainably so.
We have often said that improving business confidence is the cheapest economic stimulus that government can implement. A first step towards achieving this is for the government to deliver on its to do list. By the medium-term budget policy statement in October, we will be in a better position to look at our economic forecasts, and announce a further economic support package, building on this action plan. Malusi Gigaba is the Finance Minister.